With their first animated short “Cold Country”, Travis Overstreet and Chris Palmer answered our Twenty Questions giving us a chance to get into the minds of two local animation professionals who started, studied and now work in Atlanta. That’s what it’s all about:
Q: When did you start animating?
Travis Overstreet: I was pretty late to animation. I’ve always had an interest but I didn’t start until grad school.
Chris Palmer: I always had a love for animation, but it wasn’t until I decided to return to school for my second bachelor’s degree that I decided to get into animation.
Q: What was your first completed animation?
T.O & C.P: (Our) first finished short was Cold Country, which I finished in 10 weeks during our time at SCAD.
Q: When you first started out, do you remember what was your first resume-builder? (i.e., free work to build your resume)?
C.P: Oh Yea! Of course I remember! I really didn’t do it for free though. I had built this maquette model of a scary tree with hands and black soulless eyes, you know the kind you see in fantasy movies, for my VSFX class. I was walking to class on the day I was supposed to turn it in and a man named Charles Askew, the owner of Skewed Perceptions here in Atlanta, stopped me in the hall and asked if I would be interested in creating a sculpture for him. I agreed, we exchanged contact info and the next thing I knew I am making a model for an animated movie that he was going to pitch to a few interested production companies. Then a few months later SCAD actually bought the tree model I made from me to put on display for the VSFX department.
T.O: I definitely do. I did some logo and billboard designs for a local rent to own company. I didn’t do it for free, but I had no idea how to price my work at the time so they got a huge deal. I also did some fan art for Dad’s Garage Podcast (an Atlanta based improv theater). Because of that, I got to come on the show and a year later I got a commission for a poster illustration. As it turns out, two of the folks on that podcast now do voices for Archer.
Q: What was your first commercial job (i.e., paid)?
T.O: I got lucky and found a place with my current employer Crawford Media. They helped advise a class at SCAD and at the end of the class I was invited to interview for a position.
C.P: I was very blessed to actually find a job almost a year before graduating. Crawford Media, advised the class that Travis and I created our film Cold Country in. After the class was over, I was ask to interview for a position with their company. In fact, Travis Overstreet was hired there as well, and still works there as their Lead Concept Artist and Animator.
Q: Did you go to school for animation? If yes, where? If no, did you have any mentors?
C.P: I did! I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta Georgia. Animation was the reason I went to SCAD, but once I arrived and progressed further into my studies I fell in love with digital lighting as well. The professors there were amazing! To say that I had one mentor who be a lie. Greg Azzopardi, a gifted animator, on more than one occasion helped me through creative blocks and helped guide me through the beginning of my career path. Becky Searles Wibbles, another talented stop motion animator, would always tell me to get more sleep, remember to eat (at times giving me granola bars if i hadn’t eaten anything that day ha-ha) and to get organized more. She was amazing! Keith Ingam—who is an amazing storyboard artist!—gave me the ability to look at something and tell a compelling story about it. He is also the person who introduced me to the joy of animated short films and all they had to offer. Virginia Wissler, my lighting professor introduced me to my love of lighting, she is actually finishing her first “How to” lighting book entitled Illuminated Pixels. Some of my work is actually in her book which is super exciting. Lastly, Matt Maloney. At first glance he can be a bit intimating but there is no one I would want to work with more than him. He is so passionate about animation and creating short films. He has actually had a few films in festivals himself and he is currently working on a film now which you can follow his progress at angry-animation.com. He bends over backwards to help students create great futures for themselves and pushes them to be better animators.
T.O: I went to grad school for animation at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. I can’t speak more highly of the professors at SCAD Atlanta. One of my most influential professors is Matt Maloney. He’s an amazing independent animator and artist. He’s a bit intimidating at first but he has an absolute passion for animation and for helping other people animate. You can check out the progress on his latest film at angry-animation.com.
Q: Do you have anyone else who works with you on developing your projects?
T.O: My friend, Chris Palmer. Chris is currently working at Turner Studios in Atlanta. Other than that, I’m working on some side projects with some other friends from work. We’re called The Chorus and you can watch our new short at http://www.facebook.com/ChorusFilms.
C.P: Travis is always my “go to” guy when it comes to bouncing my weird ideas off of someone ha-ha! He just has this way of taking my ideas, processing them and then giving me what I need to help visualize my ideas.
Q: What is your medium (2D, 3D, stop motion, etc.) and/or software of choice when producing your projects?
T.O: I’m a bit of a strange bird. I do a lot of boarding, conception and design work, but I also do a lot of modeling. For my 2D work, I’m a huge Photoshop user and for 3D I use a combo of Maya and Zbrush.
C.P: I am defiantly a 3d guy, but I do and will always have a love for drawing. I primarily use Autodesk Maya, for my animation, lighting, modeling etc. along with Photoshop for texturing and drawing out my ideas. I have recently taken an interest in e-on software’s VUE, it’s a realistic environment modeling software. I have been a nature photographer for years and VUE just seems like the next logical step for me in my 3D experience.
Q: What would a typical workflow be for you if you had an idea for a short film? From idea to screen?
C.P: For me, when I have an idea usually I will play it out over and over in my mind. Once I have a solid idea, I usually start concepting out my ideas, gathering references for environments, lighting and the overall feel that I am going for. After that, I will board it out and create an animatic with sound and then begin on the modeling and rigging. Once the animation is polished, environments and lighting are looking great, and the sound is locked off then it’s off to composting for the final touches.
T.O: I usually start with a Chatman graph which helps me layout the sequence of events, similar to story beats. After that I’ll work on style frames and character designs followed by boards. After the boards comes (the) animatic (at this point I’ll have my sound locked down). After that’s all set, I’ll do my modeling followed by lighting tests and then finally rigging. Then it’s all about animating and compositing.
Q: What festivals have you entered over the years?
T.O: Chris and I recently got into the Savannah Film Festival, The Roll Your Own Film Festival and The International Hiroshima Film Festival. I have to give some thanks to The Savannah Film Festival. They were very generous with their accommodations. They took really good care of us and I can’t wait to get back.
C.P: Since then, we have been a part of the Savannah International Animation Film Festival, the Northwest Animation Festival, Atlantamation – which is a SCAD Atlanta film festival for animated student films, along with SCAD ANIMATE, which is a showcase of animated SCAD student films put on by SCAD Savannah. It will also be featured in the upcoming Educational Film Market in the 14th Hiroshima International Film Festival in Japan.
Q: Have you won any awards?
T.O: Chris and I won the Audience Choice Award at the Roll Your Own Festival and The Chorus’ new short Junk won best editing and best use of prop at the Atlanta 48 Hour Film Festival.
Q: Can you tell us about Cold Country and how it got its start?
C.P: Sure… Cold Country was created in a ten week class called the “Short Short” class. The premise behind the class was to create a short film about an deceased individual. The guys at Crawford Media advised us during those ten weeks giving us ideas and feedback. Travis and I had classes together in the past and we really kinda jump at the chance to create a short film together. After a couple of weeks coming up with ideas we decided to do a short on Joseph Stalin and the rest is history.
Q: What are your thoughts about the animation industry currently in the commercial industry (film, TV, etc.)?
T.O: I love that companies are beginning to treat their commercials as shorts. I think the companies and brands that strive to entertain someone rather than trick them into buying something are seeing a lot of success. People appreciate great work and when they see a brand that supports that, they want to support that brand.
C.P: While I was growing up companies use to just brow beat you with their products just to get you to buy them. Now with DVR’s and Tivo people need to have eye catching visuals in order and watch an advertisement instead of fast forwarding through them. Take the Star Wars franchise or Blizzard with World of Warcraft and all of the cinematic commercials they have out now, they can be considered films almost! Even Nike and Hover Vacuum have begun creating more compelling advertising strategies with animation. I think if you create something that intrigues the viewer and gets them excited about a certain product people will buy it, and animation is becoming a big part of that.
Q: What are your thoughts about the animation industry currently in the independent community?
T.O: The internet has really helped the exposure of independent animation. Before I got into grad school I was completely unaware of independent animation and now I can’t get enough. I think people are looking for work that’s more honest and less processed and now they have access to it. Independent animation is doing better than ever and with the current sentiment among the public I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.
C.P: It is a lot bigger than I originally thought it was. Before I enrolled at SCAD, I had almost no interest or knowledge of the independent film community. However once I started viewing more and more of independent animation work I was just blow away by the immense talent and artistic vision that so many people have. With the internet, especially with Cold Country, has been a great benefit to the independent film maker such as myself and Travis. The greatest thing about the independent community is that the people who are making these films are not in it for the money. They are in it to tell stories and that is spirit of film making.
Q: Generally speaking, as a storyteller, what inspires you and/or how do you usually formulate your ideas?
T.O: I don’t know what inspires me until it does. I guess the usual things are inspirational like books; film, art and nature, but what seems to be catching my attention lately are phrases. Sometimes I’ll hear something or misspeak and whatever it is that I’ve just heard or said would make me chuckle or have a nugget of truth or insight. I also do improv and we play a word association game where one person says a word and then the next person has to say a word directly after, then everyone says both words together. I find the best ideas during that game. I think overall ideas come from reflection. You’re constantly taking in information and the ideas come from thinking about and sorting through all the muck that gets stuck in your head.
C.P: I have always been a story teller, everyone in my family is. I have a classical acting back ground so I am always dying to tell a funny story and act out all the parts … ha-ha. I had a professor, Greg Azzopardi, tell me something once, which is so true in regards to my life… “Live your life in order to tell stories about it later” and that is what I do. That is where I get a lot of inspiration. However, I am always reading through concept/art books, looking at other artists work, listening to other people tell stories or even out on photography outings when an idea hits me. When they do, I usually can’t get them out of my head until I write it down some where
Q: What is your favorite animation of all time?
T.O: This is going to sound horrible but my favorite animation would have to be the old Hobbit cartoon. I like it the most because of the memories attached to it. I remember seeing it on TV as a kid and it got me into sci-fi and fantasy. I was young enough not to notice how bad the animation was. I just remember being completely sucked into that world.
C.P: Oh man— that is a tough one to answer. I think I would have to say the Mickey Mouse Cartoons. To me, those characters were magical and real and I just wanted to be part of that world. Disney was a big part of my life growing up, watching them with my family and there are just so my memories there. Plus I remember my mom taking me to the MGM studios in Orlando FL to see the animators, who were working on the newest Disney film at the time, and that was all it took…I was hooked!
Q: What would you say to up-and-coming animators who can’t afford to study animation formally?
T.O: If I had to do everything all over again I would learn everything through digital sources like Gnomon, Digital Tudors and Animation Mentor. Get online find tutorials and start making stuff. Sites like Linked In also make it really easy to get in contact with industry professionals and a lot of them are more than happy to give you a critique. It may not be a bad idea to go to a public university and get a fine arts degree. State schools are affordable and as long as you’re diligent you can get most of your tuition paid for by scholarships. A fine arts base is always a great start.
C.P: Watch tutorials! There are so many places to get training if you are serious about getting into the field. All you have to do is have a passion for it. I just read the other day that a woman who was studying nursing started to play around with VUE (a 3D environment modeling program) in her spare time and now she is gracing the cover of 3D World Magazine!
[*Publishers note: Mr. Palmer is referring to the talented Drea Horvath, who has only been working with VUE and landscapes for three years. Astonishing proof, even to this publisher, that we must DO … and often stop just talking about it. See editorial.]
Q: Do you have any new projects coming up?
T.O: I’m working on a new short right now; I’ll be posting any progress on my blog at travisoverstreet.wordpress.com and also with The Chorus and our films can be found at http://www.facebook.com/ChorusFilms
C.P: Yes, I am currently working on a short film now. It is my senior film from SCAD that I am improving on (so) that I can take the time to get it to the level that I want to. I am sure that I will be posting progress images on my blog in the coming months.
Q: What would you like to see more of in animation (generally; online, TV, film, etc.)?
T.O: I just want to see more animation period. The more animators there are making films the more the art will progress. I would like to see more work trying to replicate stop motion digitally in 3D software.
C.P: Animation now is becoming so realistic with mocap (motion capture) and all the advancements in software now-a-days. I love it; I would love to see where that goes and how far artists can push the realism of animation. On the flip side that, I have really begun to enjoy the nontraditional styles of animation as well, it just makes for beautiful films and intriguing storytelling.
Q: Do you frequent any of Atlanta’s art stores for your supplies and which are your favorites?
T.O: Utrecht is always a good spot for finding supplies and they’re always super helpful.
C.P: Sam Flax is usually where I will go to get a few of my supplies, either that or Binders. I can always find anything I am looking for there.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts or anything you want viewers to know about you and your work?
T.O: I just want to say thanks for checking out the article and suffering through my ramblings. Feel free to contact me if you need any feedback on anything.
C.P: Just that—even though I have finished school and I am now in the career field, I still continue to crave learning new things. I am so excited to grow my skills and to learn from other artist. If anyone has any questions for me, please just ask, I am always excited to hear from other artist. Also, it is a pleasure to be a part of ATLanimation.com, I am truly honored! Thank you
BONUS ‘Only in Atlanta’ Question: If I could do work for Coke-Cola or The Atlanta Aquarium, I would choose (?) and why?
T.O: This is easy, the Aquarium! I love zoos and aquariums, plus before deciding to pursue art I thought about becoming a marine biologist. I could live in the aquarium.
C.P: Hands down the Aquarium! I have always had a love for the water; I grew up on a lake and spent my summer’s scuba diving. It’s always great to work with the things you love.
To contact Chris Palmer and Travis Overstreet, check them out in ATLanimation’s new and growing business directory!
_ Thank you Mr. Travis Overstreet and Mr. Chris Palmer